Along with Mayor Bill Finch of Bridgeport, Connecticut, I made a fun presentation at the annual meeting of the US Conference of Mayors. More about that, but some background first.
For the last couple of years, I’ve been working with the Council on Metro Economies and The New American City of the US Conference of Mayors on a future-oriented, 21st century strategy for economic growth.
This project recognizes the increasing proportion of Americans who will earn their living by providing digital products and services, on the one hand, and the increasing availability of high quality, casual video communications and collaboration on the other hand.
Together these lead to some significant changes in the character of the economy and of cities. (See my presentation at the ICF Institute for more about these changes – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlNxLmIQ4O8.)
In the early stages, the strategy focused on ideas for mayors as they respond to these changes on behalf of the residents of their cities. More recently, with USCM staff, we’ve started to create pilot demonstrations of these ideas.
Recognizing that these changes in the economy enable many people to make a living almost anywhere, one part of the strategy is to provide a high quality of life, a “WOW” experience, that’s unique to a city so people come and stay there. The by-product of this experience is that it can also inspire residents to innovate – a key factor in economic growth.
With the Internet everywhere across a city, blending the physical and the virtual can create new WOW experiences. The presentation showed various examples that included displays and projections on walls and other physical structures, on a controlled mist from Long Island Sound, etc.
Bridgeport is a good example of a city that can benefit from this – an older industrial city of 150,000 that is cut by an interstate highway. It has locations and structures that wouldn’t normally be considered attractive, but offer great potential in a blended virtual/physical world.
Consider this smokestack that is the first sign of Bridgeport that drivers see on Interstate 95.
Why not make it a video screen?
This blending of the virtual and physical makes it possible to show what’s happening in real-time in another part of town or from another time in the same place.
Consider the multi-modal transit center that people see when they arrive by train, bus, ferry or even a car. It certainly could be more welcoming.
Each summer, there is a big music festival in Bridgeport – the Gathering of the Vibes. My last example showed how this wall could be transformed so it presents one of the star acts, Elvis Costello.
The song he’s singing, “Pump It Up”, is also the message to mayors and what they can now do with what used to be dreary places.
I left the mayors with this final thought: this is not primarily about something artistic or a way of getting advertising or even promoting big events. In a fundamental way, this is how cities need to think about urban design in this century.
© 2013 Norman Jacknis